Farming with the land - not against it: Whistling Kite Vineyard

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Primary production can be a fickle business, subject to the whims of the elements. Drought, flood, frost, heatwaves, unseasonable rain or low temperatures, disease, pests and the toll they can take on crops all in the backs of the minds of our farmers, viticulturists and winemakers. Of course, there are conventional methods to combat these, namely irrigation and chemicals both in the vineyard and the winery, but at what cost to the final product and the future of the land? For Pam and Tony Barich of Whistling Kite Vineyards in South Australia’s Riverland district, the answer to creating a sustainable and healthy future are organics and biodynamics.

Organic and biodynamic are certainly buzz-words in the wine industry today, but Whistling Kite Vineyard’s dedication to these principles dates back 30 years to something far more personal than a trend. To Pam and Tony “we are only custodians of the land, and it is our duty to maintain healthy soil for future generations.” When Whistling Kite Vineyard was founded in 1976, Tony begrudged the notion that applying synthetic fertilisers and nitrates were the only way to maintain a financially stable vineyard, instead opting for the gentler, hands-on approach. Organic certification was achieved in 1997 with biodynamic certification following 10 years later. Their continued success in the local and international markets - and yes, financially, is proof in their firm belief that “these farming practices are the only way a small producer can remain both environmentally and financially sustainable.”

Bees on a grapevine at Whistling Kite

Whistling Kite wines do not shy away from seasonal unpredictability, embracing vintage variations as an essential part of winemaking, not something to be blended out. Says Tony of this approach, “Biodynamic farming allows the vineyard to truly express the fruit and characteristics of the vineyard on a vintage to vintage scenario, allowing us to tell more of the story of the wine”. What they’re producing here through their range of Shiraz, Petit Verdot, Montepulciano, Viognier & Petit Manseng is purity, sensory story telling on another plane.

The premium fruit grown in their vineyards - and the resulting award-winning wines have had exciting ramifications for South Australia’s Riverland region as a whole. Pam and Tony strive to show guests that incredible wines can be produced without the need for chemical inputs and the potential that exists for the Riverland as a premium wine producing region. High levels of involvement on the wine tourism stage help to spread this word: from representing the Riverland in Dusseldorf as part of “Gems of the Riverland”, hosting a Tasting Australia regional event, joining the Cellar Door Festival in Adelaide’s CBD, hosting regular open days to now being recognised as the winner of the Best of Wine Tourism Awards 2018 in Sustainable Wine Tourism Practices.  At all times their message is clear; sustainability is not a fad, nor a high-flung ideal which compromises quality, it’s to the benefit of all; the land, the grapes, the wines - and our future. To Pam & Tony it’s not enough to simply implement such practices “we feel that part of the responsibility of biodynamic farming is a willingness to share our knowledge and to help further people’s understanding of it”.

Whistling Kite Vineyards’ home, on the banks of the majestic Murray River, is a testament to all Pam and Tony have achieved. A vineyard which radiates a sense of peace and serenity, welcoming visitors of all kinds (including the feathered and furred varieties) to share their home, some for life, others for only a short while. Here it is about more than wine, guests are encouraged to spend the afternoon taking in the breath-taking views of the river valley over a platter of local and biodynamic produce, perhaps finishing with a guided walk through the vineyard with Tony. Once you have experienced this it’s hard not to share in Tony’s sense of passion and dedication to this land and our responsibility to it. It will seep into your bones and stay with you forever.

Whistling Kite Vineyard is located approximately 250km from Adelaide, South Australia. Regular weekend openings to commence shortly, with tours and tastings available by appointment at the moment.

Whistling Kite Wines is the 2018 regional winner of the Best of Wine Tourism Award in the Sustainable Wine Tourism Practices category.